Tatum’s big night carries Boston to OT win: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Tatum set a new career-high with 53 points as Boston moved back over .500 on the season

1. Yes, the Minnesota Timberwolves are the worst team in the NBA. Yes, the Boston Celtics trailed them by 17 points at one point. Yes, Boston had a collapse late in the game as Minnesota forced overtime. But, yes, the Celtics won the game.

You know what else? It doesn’t really matter anymore. The Celtics are just above .500 and in a battle with a bunch of teams between 4th and 9th in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Stevens has become fond of saying “Every win counts the same and we’ll take them however we can get them”.

So, no, beating the Wolves is nothing to crow about. No one should feel like anything great was accomplished. But a win is a win and the Celtics need all the wins they can get right now.

2. Beyond the win, the storyline from this game was Jayson Tatum’s 53-point outburst. Tatum shot 16-of-25 from the floor, including 6-of-10 from behind the arc, and 15-of-16 from the free throw line. Tatum made nine baskets inside in the paint and took very few midrange jumpers. Following the game, Tatum said his mindset was to “attack the hoop more”, which is a welcomed change for him.

Tatum had it going early, as he got in the paint for a rare floater in the first quarter:

Later in the first half, Tatum went to work in the post for an and-1, which is something we don’t see enough from him:

In the third quarter, Tatum took over. He scored 17 points in the period. He did it by staying aggressive with rim attacks:

With Tatum hot, his teammates were looking for him. Jaylen Brown could have finished this drive and taken a tough shot at the pain. Instead, he kicks to Tatum for the open corner three:

This was the one to give Tatum a new career-high of 44 points. This is a well-contested shot, but Tatum probably didn’t even notice:

Tatum would go on to score nine more points after that bucket to help carry the Celtics to the win. It was an absolute gem of a game. Last season, after the All-Star break, Tatum was playing the best basketball of his career. If he’s heating up similarly now, he can help carry Boston when they need him most.

3. Tatum took 25 shots, but it was an unselfish, efficient 25 shots. Everything came in the flow of the game. And the handful of times Minnesota trapped him, he was content to give the ball up. On this play, Tatum attracts two defenders on the ball and the third is creeping over to protect against the roller. Tatum finds Marcus Smart for a big three-pointer:

It’s going to get lost a little in Tatum scoring 53 points, but Smart (24) and Jaylen Brown (26) had plenty of big moments of their own. As Tatum said postgame, the Celtics see it as a sign of growth that they are unselfish and that they “celebrate each other’s success”.

4. How did the Celtics dig themselves into such a big hole? They were again very sloppy with the ball. For the second time in the last three games, Boston had at least 20 turnovers. The game in the middle, they had 17 turnovers. That’s not going to cut it. Against good teams, like Philadelphia, that gets you beat. Against average and bad teams, like New York and Minnesota, that makes it difficult to get wins.

The other thing that made it hard on the Celtics was very poor transition defense. In the first half, the Wolves had 12 fastbreak points. Some of that was driven by the turnovers, but other times it was just lackadaisical defense. After halftime, Boston cleaned up the turnovers somewhat and made sure to get back on defense. That allowed them to get back in the game.

5. The numbers of the Celtics bench players won’t pop out at you, but their impact was big. Payton Pritchard, Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams all provided the Celtics with a big lift. Thompson and Williams were able to at least make life somewhat difficult on Karl-Anthony Towns, while Pritchard made some plays on offense. Pritchard has developed some chemistry with Robert Williams on lob plays, as you can see here:

6. Before this clip starts, Grant Williams made a nice steal where he tip-toed the baseline. Then he finishes this play with a great kickout to Payton Pritchard. As he has since his first NBA game, Pritchard steps with into the shot without hesitation:

7. It’s a sign of how good he’s been that Robert Williams can put up a 6/7/5 line and it’s considered a quiet game. The Celtics are getting a lot of mileage out of Williams as a facilitator at the top of the key:

8. Kemba Walker was quiet as a scorer for a lot of the game. He did do a nice job as a playmaker, as he finished with nine assists. This drive-and-kick to Brown is an example of plays Walker made regularly as a passer:

9. On the scoring front, Walker came up big when Boston needed him to. He scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. In OT, Walker buried this three-pointer off a pass from Jayson Tatum:

Next trip, Walker drilled another big three:

As Brad Stevens said postgame about Walker: “He was who he is when it mattered most and knocked down big shots in overtime.”

10. Boston is back over .500 once again and it comes right before heading west for a three-game road trip. The Celtics will play at Denver, Portland and the Los Angeles Lakers over the next week. They’ll do so without Evan Fournier, who was ruled out for the trip due to being in the health and safety protocols. The good news is that there are no back-to-backs, so Kemba Walker should be able to play in each game.

The bad news? Denver is a very good team and they’ll come into Sunday afternoon’s matchup on an 8-game winning streak. Portland is always a difficult place to win. On the plus side, the Lakers aren’t really themselves right now, as they’re without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

It’s imperative that the Celtics go at least 1-2 on the trip. That’ll get them back to Boston at .500. If they can go 2-1, that’s even better. 3-0 would be an absolute dream.